As a child I use to hate getting my hair combed. I use to stand in a chair over a sink while my mother applied shampoo and conditioner all over my kinky hair to clean it. Then it came the endless hours of sitting in between her legs while she pulled, tanked, parted, combed and brushed every strand into perfect ponytails. After all the crying and yelling and spanking, the task is finally completed with some bright colored barrettes on the ends of my hair. I had always been told I had “long hair for a black girl” so I never really had an insecurity about my hair until I became an adult.
Imagine being told that the hair you grow naturally out of your head is unprofessional. Imagine being told you need to put chemicals in your hair, known to cause cancer, in order to be acceptable. Imagine being asked if you forget to do your hair just because your hair is in its natural state. This is a common occurrence that many black women have been facing since the time they were a child. Hair has been part of our political and social lives from the moment our hair started to grow out of our heads. Black women constantly struggle with how to stay true to themselves while entering corporate America.
As an adult, many black women wear braids, dreads, afros, weaves, perms to make their hair straight. Children in the black community as young as two get perms. Now some of it is vanity, yes, but most of it has to deal with trying to maneuver within a society that has a European standard of beauty (think Taylor Swift or one of the Kardashians).
Recently, Kylie Jenner and vine celebrity Mallory Mooke, donned faux dreadlocks and box braids. These are two hairstyles that are typically worn by people in the black community. Some people say its cultural appropriation while others say it’s just hair. While I don’t necessarily agree that its appropriation I disagree with the notion that it is just hair. If it was just hair, black women would have been getting praise for their hairstyles for decades. If it was just hair, black women wouldn’t be told their hair is unprofessional, or asked if they had combed their hair.
Black women have been getting slammed, disrespected, and encourage to do things to fit a more European aesthetic of beauty. Now you have two young, two white girls who are wearing these hairstyles and somehow its ‘beautiful”, “expressive” and just hair. Meanwhile, it’s unprofessional for black women. It goes back to the endless debate about black people getting shamed for doing something and once white people pick it up its now acceptable. To say something is just hair downplays the plight black women face in this country.
The black hair care industry is a $684 million industry according to Mintel. However, the company notes that this doesn’t include many aspect of black hair care which would put it at almost a $500 billion dollar industry. The Huffington Post reports that relaxers count for 21% of all expenditures and 6 out of 10 black women wear a wig or a weave. When you take into consideration how money black women, regardless of class, spend on their hair in addition to the time it takes to get it done, it becomes clear: it is not “just” hair.
by ASHLEI MCPHERSON